Friday, February 26, 2016

The Baha'i Calendar

"Can you explain this Baha'i calendar thing?"

Well, that's not quite how I would phrase the question, but you ask, I try to respond.

Technically, it's called the Badi Calendar, not the Baha'i Calendar. Why? No idea.

And there are only a few things that really need explaining:
  1. The beginning of the day
  2. The days of the week
  3. The months of the year
  4. The beginning of the year
So, to "explain this Baha'i calendar thing", it's probably easiest to tackle those one at a time.

Before I begin, though, I'd just like to point out that there are over 40 calendar systems currently in use around the world, as far as I can tell (gotta love google). All of them, with a singular exception, are either based on the cycle of the moon, or somehow strive to reconcile the lunar and the solar cycles. Anyways, that said, let's go back to the Badi Calendar and the beginning of the day.

The Beginning of the Day

If we had no calendar system in our life today. and we were trying to come up with one, a basic question facing us would be when to begin the day. There are, if you think about it, four natural points at which to do that: sunrise, sunset, high noon and midnight, the last being the opposite of high noon.

Noon would likely be right out as that would mean changing the date during the most obtrusive time of the day. Midnight, while avoiding the date change thing, has a singular disadvantage in that you can't actually calculate it without some serious mechanical means. So for sheer practical purposes, we would likely discount either of those options.

This leaves us with the sunrise / sunset options.

From a theological point of view, sunset has the advantage in that it implies that we move from darkness to light. As this is also the same standard in the Bible, as well as in the Qur'an, it seems only fitting that it be the same in the Badi Calendar. And so it is: the day begins at sunset.

The Days of the Week

The Badi Calendar has seven days in the week, just like most others. The only difference is that the week begins on Saturday, and the "day of rest" is Friday, but that isn't actually being observed at this time. From what I understand, the day of rest will be observed when it is feasible within the context of society. After all, most of us can't just take Friday off, so it's not really realistic at this time to make it mandatory.

The other interesting thing is the names of the days of the week.

Beginning with Saturday, the names of the days are Jalal (Glory), Jamal (Beauty), Kamal (Perfection), Fidal (Grace), 'Idal (Justice), Istijlal (Majesty), and Istiqlal (Independence). At this time, I don't know of anyone actually using these names, much less many people who know about them. 'Nuff said there.

The Months of the Year

Now it begins to get interesting. The year is composed of 19 months of 19 days each. For those of you who are mathematically inclined, you will notice that this comes to only 361 days. What happens to the rest of the year? Do we just lose four days every year, and fall further and further behind? Nope. We squeeze these extra days between the 18th and 19th months, known as 'Ayyam-i-Ha.

The months, like the days of the week, have different names than any other calendar system, but I don't really feel like typing them all up, so I'm just going to cut and paste:
Calendar DatesBahá'í MonthArabicTranslation
Mar 21 – Apr 8BaháبهاءSplendour
Apr 9 – Apr 27JalálجلالGlory
Apr 28 – May 16JamálجمالBeauty
May 17 – Jun 4‘AẓamatعظمةGrandeur
Jun 5 – Jun 23NúrنورLight
Jun 24 – Jul 12RaḥmatرحمةMercy
Jul 13 – Jul 31KalimátكلماتWords
Aug 1 – Aug 19KamálكمالPerfection
Aug 20 – Sep 7Asmá'اسماءNames
Sep 8 – Sep 26‘IzzatعزةMight
Sep 27 – Oct 15MashíyyatمشيةWill
Oct 16 - Nov 3‘IlmعلمKnowledge
Nov 4 - Nov 22QudratقدرةPower
Nov 23 - Dec 11QawlقولSpeech
Dec 12 – Dec 30Masá'ilمسائلQuestions
Dec 31 - Jan 18SharafشرفHonour
Jan 19 - Feb 6SulṭánسلطانSovereignty
Feb 7 - Feb 25MulkملكDominion
Feb 26 - Mar 1Ayyám-i-Há (Intercalary Days)ايام الهاءThe Days of Há
Mar 2 - Mar 20‘Alá' (Month of fasting)علاءLoftiness
I love cut and paste.

One thing I find interesting is that many Baha'is think that the names of the months are names or attributes of God, somehow trying to figure out how "Words", "Speech", and "Questions" fit in there. It's great fun hearing how some try to reconcile this. ("Well, you see, God created all the words, and in every dispensation, gives them a new meaning." "So why don't we have a month called 'kittens' or 'toe jam', since God created those, too.")

The fact is that nowhere in the Writings does it say that they are names or attributes of God. Remember how I love to say "Show it to me in the Writings"? Well, this is one instance where it paid off. I learned something new, as did the person I asked.

From what I understand, the names of the months actually come from a prayer by one of the Imams of Islam. I've seen the prayer, but am not sure where to find it right now. Rather than attributes or names of God, these are more like key words guiding us through that prayer.

Why did the Bab choose that prayer for the names of the months? No clue. Sorry.

The Beginning of the Year

This is also interesting. Like the beginning of the day, there are 4 natural points in the solar cycle to select for the beginning of your year: the spring equinox, the summer solstice, the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice. The Gregorian calendar, which is most used in the West, differs here, in that it begins a bit after the winter solstice. I don't really feel like explaining the historical reasons for it, but just know that it wasn't always that way.

Here, the Bab chose the Spring Equinox for the beginning of the year. Kind of nice that, in that the year begins with the rising of the flowers. At least, it does in most parts of the world, unless you happen to live in Canada. But not in Victoria, where I currently live. (Sorry, if you happen to live anywhere else in Canada. I don't mean to rub it in, but we do have our daffodils in bloom right now. And our crocuses. Croci? And the cherry blossoms are out. But I don't want to rub it in.) (To be fair, though, the snowdrops are already past. They bloomed in January.)

What is fascinating to me about this is that the Universal House of Justice recently decided that the point for choosing the equinox, since it takes a full 24 hours for the earth to pass through the actual point in space, is Tehran, the city of Baha'u'llah's birth. This year, for example, Tehran will pass through the point of equinox on 20 March, instead of the usual 21 March date. And so the first day of the year will 20 March this year, instead of 21 March.

From there, we count backwards 19 days, and arrive at 1 March as the beginning of the month of fasting.

Sounds good, so far,

But when we count forwards from the last spring equinox, 18 months of 19 days each, we arrive at 25 February. This only gives us 4 days of Ayyam-i-Ha this year, instead of the usual 5 for a leap year.


Well, simple, really. The first 18 months are counted forward from Naw Ruz, the New Year. The last month is counted back from the next Naw Ruz. Ayyam-i-Ha is sort of like the sponge that fills in the gap.

Make sense?


But why?

Well, it gives us a common point in the year, Naw Ruz. The first day of the year always coincides with the spring equinox. That is immovable. The rest of the calendar revolves around that point.

Now, remember when I said that there was a singular calendar system that had nothing to do with the moon? That would be the Badi Calendar. Our months have nothing to do with the lunar cycle. They are based on math.

Or so I had thought.

Only recently did I learn that the moon, in relation to the calendar, works on a 19-year cycle. What the heck does that mean? Well, it means that if we have a full moon on Naw Ruz, we will have another full moon on Naw Ruz in 19 years.

Why is that cool? Because the Badi Calendar is not merely an annual calendar. Every 19 years is called a Vahid. And as you might expect, each year in a Vahid has its own name. What are they? Well, let's use our old friend, cut and paste, again:
No.Persian NameArabic ScriptEnglish Translation
18AbháابهىMost Luminous

Please don't ask me to explain why these are named what they are. I will only give my famous "I don't know" response.

Oh, and it doesn't stop there. Every 19 Vahids is called a Kull-i-Shay', or All-Things. I can only presume that each Vahid has its own name, like the years in the Vahid, but I don't really know.

And, for what it's worth, for those of you like these little details, the Unviersal House of Justice formally aligned the calendar system world-wide at the end of the 9th Vahid. This year, 2015 - 2016, is the first year of the 10th Vahid of the first Kull-i-Shay'.

I just love that. It all seems to revolve around the numbers 9 and 19.

So, does that explain "this Baha'i Calendar thing"?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

The Talk

"Shoghi, you're almost eleven years old," I said to him the other day. "It's time we had the father-son talk."

We were in the car, on the way to the museum, and I could hear him sitting behind me. He knew that this would be one of those serious talks, and he was ready. But when I said that it was "the" talk, I could practically hear him roll his eyes.

"Now," I continued, "I'm not talking about sex. You already know a bit about sex, and love, and how character is so much more important than appearances. You know that you should look at people's virtues and values, their actions and service. You've seen Mama and I, and how we learned about each other before we decided to get married. And you've seen a lot of other people who only saw appearances, and you know how poorly that turns out." He readily agreed with that.

"No, today," I went on, "we're going to talk about death."

I told him that before we went to the museum we were going to go to a cemetery. And so we drove down to the water, parked at a beautiful little park, and took a nice walk along the shore to the cemetery I had in mind.

As we walked, we talked, like we usually do. We walked along the shore, watching the waves, enjoying the sounds of the birds, and I could tell that he was a little bit trepidatious about the end of our walk. Why was I bringing him to a cemetery? He had never really been in one. I mean, he'd been in cemeteries before, but hadn't really visited one. This just seemed a bit strange to him. And after all I've put him through, that's saying a lot.

I talked about other cemeteries, and how I really don't like most of them. They're too boring. The grass is all nice and manicured. The trees are "properly groomed". And they have so many rules and restrictions on the types of headstones you can have these days, most of which are designed to make it easier to keep it all looking nice and trim. It's as if we have taken the sterility of the hospital and transferred it to the graveside.

The one we were visiting, I said, was much more alive. Probably not the best word to describe it, but I can't think of a better one. The trees are all old and gnarled. The grass has many other plants growing throughout. Some would call it weedy, but I would say natural. And the graves come in all shapes and sizes, with many different motifs. It's awesome.

Anyways, we got there safe and sound, and the very first thing we saw as we approached, for there are no walls surrounding it, were a few graves rimmed with an outline of stone just a few inches high. They're essentially a rectangular cement outline showing you where the person is buried.

I stopped beside one of them, on which you could read the name written in moss, it was so old, and stood respectfully beside it.

"Imagine", I said, "the person buried here. Picture her lying down, you can see where she is. And she is as far below the ground as I am above it. You can practically see her lying there. What do you know about her?"

"I know her name", Shoghi said. "Oh, and when she was born, and when she died." He thought about it a bit longer, and added, "I know how old she was."

"Do you know anything else about her?"

He looked puzzled, as if he were missing something. "No, I don't."

"Me neither. But look around. You can see that the person here, next to her, has the same last name, and live around the same time. I'm sure they knew each other. In fact, virtually everyone here lived in the same area. Most of them lived around the same time. They likely knew each other. A community in life, and a community in death."

We walked around, making these sorts of connections, seeing who was buried near each other, who lived at the same time, which groupings seemed to be of similar ethnic background, and how this often changed from one part of the cemetery to another, with sprinklings of the odd ones throughout.

We spoke of what we knew of each person, sometimes gleaning their religion, or perhaps their profession. It was interesting what details we could figure out, and just how much we truly didn't know.

Throughout all this, we admired the trees, the flowers, the mushrooms, the birds; we admired all that we could. And all the while I was leading us gently towards one particular grave, that of Rebecca Gibbs. Born around 1808 in Philadelphia, Rebecca came to Canada to escape the plight of the Black people in the US. On her tombstone, she is listed as a "laundress, poet, nurse". On the back of her tombstone is her beautiful poem, "The Old Red Shirt". It's a simple poem, almost too simple by today's standards, but beautiful and relevant, nonetheless.

We read the poem, Shoghi and I, and just stared at her grave afterwards, tears in our eyes. We said a prayer for her soul, thankful for this little bit of beauty she brought into this hard world that no doubt begrudged her a place.

Afterwards, as we walked away, I asked him, "Do you think anyone remembers how well she could stitch a shirt? How wonderful she was at applying starch to a collar?"

"No", he replied, looking at me as if I were crazy.

"In a hundred years, do you think anyone will recall how well I could close a jump ring? How nice my bracelets may be?"

"No", he said, looking a bit more thoughtful.

"What do you think they will remember, if anything?"

"Probably your words."

"What will you do, in your lifetime, that people will remember? That's the question you need to ask yourself. Because we will all end up here, some day. Every one of us. Every one you know. Every one you see. And most of us will not do anything in our life that will be remembered, and that's a shame. But you and I, we're aware of this. We can make a conscious choice to do something that might be worth remembering, like Rebecca's poem."

As we walked away, there was much silence, but there was also joy. We pointed out more beautiful trees, and showed each other more nice tombstones, but we both thought about our lives, too, and what we could do to make it a life worth living.

We continued on to the museum, but I'll tell you, we both saw it with very different eyes now.

The Old Red Shirt
     by Rebecca Gibbs, laundress, poet and nurse

A miner came to my cabin door,
His clothes they were covered with dirt
He held out a piece he desired me to wash,
Which I found was an old red shirt.
His cheeks were thin, and furrow'd his brow,
His eyes they were sunk in his head
He said that he had got work to do,
And be able to earn his bread.
He said that the "old red shirt " was torn,
And asked me to give it a stitch
But it was threadbare, and sorely worn,
Which show'd he was far from rich.
O! miners with good paying claims,
O! traders who wish to do good.
Have pity on men who earn your wealth,
Grudge not the poor miner his food.
Far from these mountains a poor mother mourns
The darling that hung by her skirt,
When contentment and plenty surrounded the home
Of the miner that brought me the shirt.